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BWW Interview: John Bucchino of GRATEFUL 20TH ANNIVERSARY VIRTUAL CONCERT

One of the industry's most popular songwriters is celebrating an anniversary and he's doing it online.

BWW Interview: John Bucchino of GRATEFUL 20TH ANNIVERSARY VIRTUAL CONCERTSomeone's having a birthday!

Twenty years ago songwriter John Bucchino released a cd of his songs, a cd that featured the likes of Liza Minnelli, Patti LuPone, and Kristin Chenoweth. It put Bucchino, who had been struggling for years with a career that seemed stalled in spite of an enormous respect from the community of singers, firmly on the map. It also put him on everyone's radar. The rest, as they say, is history. Bucchino became a songwriter in demand: everyone wanted to sing his songs, he was booked to perform in venues around the world, and he even took his skills to Broadway for a musical telling of an old Bette Davis movie, The Catered Affair. His has been an auspicious career, one worthy of praise, and maybe a little envy.

Now living out west and acting as caretaker to his mother (whattaya think? He's a good son, too), John Bucchino is celebrating the twenty year anniversary of the release of that album. He thought it would be a quiet party for just him and his mom - but a close friend had a different idea, an idea that would turn into something special.

GRATEFUL: THE SONGS OF John Bucchino will be given the full quarantine treatment when it will be treated to a 20TH ANNIVERSARY VIRTUAL CONCERT beginning online on December 15th and running through December 31st and, true to form, there were a number of talented singers lining up to take part. You may have heard of one or two of them... maybe. ( Ticket info HERE)

Interested to know the details of the event (especially how a routine-oriented Bucchino was sweet-talked into so large an undertaking) I reached out to John to get the whole story.

This interview was conducted digitally and is reproduced in its entirety.

John Bucchino, welcome to Broadway World! This is our first chance to chat and I am very excited to have you with us. How are things out west for your family at this time?


I've been living here in Tucson, looking after my mom, for the past three and a half years. At 89, she's in great shape and, thankfully, we get along well. I feel so fortunate to be surrounded by natural beauty, taking walks in the desert, and living a much more peaceful life than during my 25 years in NYC. The energy here is exactly what I need during these tumultuous times.

You are celebrating an anniversary this year, as your album GRATEFUL: THE SONGS OF John Bucchino turns 20. Even though two decades have passed, how vivid are your memories of the experience of recording and releasing that cd?


I have some very vivid memories of that life-changing experience. First was the remarkable synchronicity in how the CD and cast of singers came about. It was the year 2000. Billy Rosenfield, who was a producer at RCA, had a budget for a small project. He liked my work and called to ask what kind of album I would make within that budget. I figured a piano/vocal CD would be cheap enough and thought about including some of the illustrious artists I'd met since moving to New York eight years earlier.

The ways in which the cast had come into my life were magically interconnected: Brian Lane Green, a friend since the late 80s, had introduced me to Andrea Marcovicci and Amanda McBroom. Amanda had introduced me to Judy Collins when she attended a show at which Amanda sang "Sweet Dreams," Michael Feinstein, a friend since 1978, introduced me to Jimmy Webb, who introduced me to Art Garfunkel, The Tonics, a vocal group of which Brian Lane Green was a member, had moved to New York a year before I did, and they brought me into their circle of friends which included Liza Minnelli, Billy Stritch, Daisy Prince, Ann Hampton Callaway, and Adam Guettel. Adam introduced me to Kristin Chenoweth. Somewhere along the way, Patti LuPone discovered my songs and put a few on her own album, and I met a young Australian named David Campbell who took the cabaret world by storm.

So when Billy asked me what an album of mine might look like, I called the people above and asked if they'd be willing to record one of my songs with me. Every single one said yes immediately, with no question about compensation. In the end, each was paid only union scale, a couple of hundred dollars.

We recorded in a legendary Manhattan studio that Adam Guettel had suggested called Sear Sound. It was one of the few studios that still recorded on analog tape rather than digitally, and Adam said the sound would be much warmer recorded in that way. Funnily enough, when I played the CD for Adam, he singled out Judy Collins' cut, "Sweet Dreams," as a shining example of that warm sound. I could've strangled him - Judy's was the only song we recorded with DIGITAL equipment, and we could have saved a fortune recording every song that way in a cheaper studio. As it turned out, I had to come up with $21,000 of my own money (borrowed) to complete the CD. Worth every penny!

I'd recently signed a publishing deal with the Rodgers and Hammerstein folks who wanted to put out a songbook of sheet music of my songs. I'd already started work on that when Billy gave me the record deal, so we decided to have the songs in the songbook match the songs on the album. A fortuitous decision that led to singers all over the world performing them, and a joyful second career for me giving Master Classes in their interpretation.

When the album came out it made a big splash, and everyone wanted to sing a John Bucchino song - what was your most prevalent takeaway? Elation over the success or pressure about what would come next?


After 30 years of writing in a vacuum and the world totally ignoring my work, the attention it got when I moved to NYC, and then even more after the Grateful album was VERY sweet. The best part was gaining the respect of writers and performers whom I respected. And the creative stimulation of seeing musical theatre (about which I previously knew next to nothing) and having the platform of cabaret through which to share my work was a dream come true. So my response was mostly elation, though I felt a little pressure from supporters Stephen Schwartz, Steve Sondheim, and Hal Prince to try my hand at writing for the theatre. The prospect of wading into the unknown depths of that foreign art form terrified me! (It still does...)

When recording a CD, one has to listen to it ALL the time to make sure it is just right. In the ensuing years after releasing Grateful, have you spent any time going back to revisit it?


Nope. I almost never listen to anything I've done after it's completed. I know me - I'll torture myself over things I wish I could improve.

You are having a kind of virtual birthday party for Grateful. Tell me about the online concert you and Jessica Fishenfeld have planned for December 15th.


Jess is a wonderful classically-trained singer, who is also a gifted interpreter of theatre and cabaret songs, and a tech-savvy video editor. She and I have performed my "The Song With The Violins" together at parties, and she asked if I would record a video of my hands playing the accompaniment to which she could record a video of herself singing it and then create a split-screen video performance with her face and, off to the side, my hands. We did it, and it was great. So she asked if I'd like to do a whole concert in that way. At first, I said no, because I knew it would be a lot of work. But then somebody told me it was the 20th anniversary of the release of the Grateful CD, and I thought a concert would be a fitting celebration. So we decided on a charity with whom to share the proceeds, The Ali Forney Center who supports homeless LGBTQ young people. And I started getting the singers and songs together. One of the first people I called was Stephen Schwartz who'd said if I ever did another recording and didn't invite him to sing "Love Quiz," our 33-year friendship was over. It's not exactly a difficult decision to have Stephen Schwartz be a part of one's project... Then I asked which of the original performers from the CD would be able to join us. I found that many artists are surprisingly busy during this quarantine time, working on charity projects as well as trying to scrape together a living. So some of the original singers were unable to participate. But we do have Ann Hampton Callaway singing "In A Restaurant By The Sea," David Campbell singing "Sweet Dreams," Andrea Marcovicci singing "Sepia Life," Lois Sage singing "Temporary," and, since Jessica had already recorded "The Song With The Violins," Amanda McBroom sings a song we co-wrote called "Interesting Times."


Sadly, dear Michael Feinstein was unavailable, so I needed to find someone to sing "Grateful." Although I didn't know him, I remember hearing that Leslie Odom Jr. had performed the song at a benefit. So I got his number from a mutual friend, and he surprised me by asking to sing "A Powerful Man" instead. He referred me to Mykal Kilgore as a perfect choice for "Grateful," and he was right. Lois Sage's son, Alexander Sage Oyen, not only a brilliant writer but also a terrific singer, does "Taking The Wheel," Broadway and TV star Corey Cott sings "Unexpressed," Jessica's fiancé, Scott Joiner sings a duet with her on "Real Enough To Change My Mind" from my short musical LAVENDER GIRL, another great writer, and performer, Will Reynolds, sings a newly-commissioned song written to honor activist David Mixner called "David's Song (A Beam of Light)," and Swedish soprano sax virtuoso Anders Paulsson and I do an instrumental version of "It Feels Like Home." We're ending the concert with Natalie Douglas' gorgeous rendition of a song called "Do Not Turn Away." I wrote it shortly before my younger brother died of AIDS. My mom had gone to a support group with his partner, and she called me, sobbing, and said a beautiful 18-year-old boy had gotten up and told the group that when he'd come out to his parents and told them he was HIV positive, they kicked him out of the house. She couldn't imagine how parents could do that to their own child. Given our hope to raise money for the Ali Forney Center's important work, this seemed like the perfect song with which to close.

The concert will premiere on Tuesday, Dec. 15th at 8 pm EST, and ticket holders will have unlimited viewing of it until Dec. 31st. Also included with ticket purchase will be a virtual "after-party" with Jessica, me, and some of the cast, immediately following the premiere.

I know you to be a creature of habit, you enjoy the structure of your day - how did Jessica get you to agree to this project?


For the past year or so, my daily routine has been archiving everything I've ever written for the Library of Congress. It's been fun to revisit songs from as early as 1969 when I started writing and rummage through old tapes for demos to polish and add to the files. I'm up to over 300 songs so far and, miraculously, have found recordings of all but about 15. And I've found an outlet for them: I'm sharing them chronologically, along with personal anecdotes, piano solos, some full concert and theatre videos, and other exclusive material, on my Patreon page at Patreon.com/johnbucchino

One of the reasons I agreed to this project, having been so steeped in my past, was to have an active project, to collaborate on something new and alive.

Did you ever think that you would be an internet entertainer?


Ha! Not really. But thank goodness the technology exists for artists of all kinds to share their work online. And, for that matter, thank goodness for the computer programs that enabled me to write out my music for my shows and songbooks when I didn't even read music, and the programs that have enabled us to assemble this concert. Born at the right time!

Some of the original performers from Grateful are returning for this online concert, but you've gathered some new friends to breathe their own life into songs that you've been listening to other celebrated artists perform for twenty years. What's the feeling when you experience these new versions of your songs?


It's lovely to hear, and SEE, the interpretations of these spectacular performers. Every one of them either adds to their original versions (burnished by age and experience) or, in the case of the younger ones, brings a fresh perspective to a song they may have loved but have not sung before. As the writer, it's a joy to witness their creativity in action.

What kind of songwriter are you? The kind that likes to hear singers go where they want with the composition or one that feels better if the artist follows your framework?


I write in a very detailed and specific way, and many of my piano parts have the complexity of classical pieces. So it's important to me that they be played accurately. Plus, the interplay between the accompaniment and the vocal is an integral, meticulously thought out, element of each song's construction. As for the vocal parts, I don't write them squarely, as some writers do, and hope that the singer will breathe natural life into them. I write them out to be conversational, and the rhythms of conversation are anything but square. But if a singer takes their cues from what I've laboriously put on the page, what may at first seem like unnecessarily complicated rhythms will make sense and, hopefully, provide clues for a deeply resonant performance.

John, over the years your work has inspired a (sometimes) almost fanatical response from people, especially young singers who love to perform your stories. Do you find it easy to accept such strong adulation from people, or is there an element of discomfort as well?


Oh, it's totally embarrassing when it happens. I never expect any kind of adulatory response, and try to diffuse it by just being the big, nerdy goofball that I am. Hopefully, especially when working with students, they get that we're in it together, attempting to discover ways in which they can communicate something universal by sharing their most unique selves.

The ticket price for Grateful is a very reasonable twenty dollars, but you have made the decision to give a portion of the monies earned to the Ali Forney Center, which provides housing for homeless LGBTQ+ youth. Tell our readers why their organization matters to you.


Having gone through my own struggles, first with self-acceptance, and then external acceptance of my sexuality, I so empathize with what young LGBTQ people are dealing with. Add to that the unimaginable trauma of being rejected by your own family and having to find ways to survive alone in the world, and it feels like there is no choice but to do everything possible to help them.

John, we are days away from Thanksgiving. For what are you Grateful?


So much! More than I can list! For one thing, I'm grateful that I can be a conduit for words and music. It often feels like songs are messages from some higher part of myself to my smaller, earth-bound, ego-self. So many of my songs tell me what I need to hear in any given moment: the truth of an inappropriate (often one-sided) relationship, how to be more proactive in creating a better reality for myself, about not overthinking, not worrying so much, and a million other bits of self-advice.

One Saturday morning, I was vacuuming my studio apartment on West 79th St. All of a sudden, I found myself sitting at my piano singing "Grateful, grateful, truly grateful I am..." and weeping. They don't often come with that "lightning bolt" immediacy and this time, to be honest, only the chorus did. I had to SWEAT for the rest of the song! But, ever since then, I have had an increased awareness of the power of gratitude and the innumerable gifts for which each of us can give endless thanks.

John, thank you for chatting with me today, have a wonderful holiday sprint into 2021 and I will see YOU on December 15th!

And I'm grateful for YOU!

For Tickets and info to GRATEFUL 20TH ANNIVERSARY VIRTUAL CONCERT visit the Eventbrite website HERE or the John Bucchino website HERE


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